It’s Monday 14th January 2019. It’s the day I am due to meet up with ‘my’ NHS oncologist to learn whether I continue to be cancer free, or if cancer has returned. So its an important day for me. I leave early as finding a parking place is always an issue except at night time.
I arrive at the relevant unit, housed in a part of the hospital that has seen much better days. It’s old, it’s drab. I approach the ‘receptionist’ and wait for her to acknowledge me. After a minute or so she looks up and says, “Name.” I hand over my appointment letter. She ‘plays’ with her computer and then says “Take a seat.” I look around and there are plenty seated in the waiting area. Thankfully, there are some empty seats. I sit and start reading the book I brought along. This is the only way I have found to deal with unpredictable waiting that always occurs. These folks see you when they see you irrespective of the time slot they have given you; the time slot is there to enable them to turn you away if you do not turn up on time.
Someone calls my name. I respond, “That’s me, I will be along in a minute.” In a minute I find myself in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar person. He tells me that he is Doctor…. and asks if his colleague can sit in as a part of the training. I say “Yes.” Then I ask “Where is Nicola, my oncologist?” This is when I learn that I will not be seeing ‘my’ oncologist today.
This doctor dives into jargon. The only thing I understand is that there is something unusual in the results. That he is not ok with this. And is sending me over the X-ray unit to have an ultrasound performed in my neck. He hands me the paper that I have to take with me. I ask “Where is the X-ray unit? How do I get there from here?” He tells me to go ask one of the receptionists…..
Thankfully, the signage in the hospital is good and I happen to arrive at an entrance/exit where this signage is present. I use this to make my way to the X-ray unit, hand over the paper to one of the receptionists, and then make my way to the next waiting area. I get my book out again.
After waiting for about an hour, a young woman comes out of the main X-ray room and says, “There will be a delay of an hour…..” As she is about to go back I ask, “What does this mean for me? By what time can I expect to be seen? This information is useful to me as it allows me to determine if I can go for a walk, get something to eat, need to top up the parking meter. Telling us that there is an hour delay is not helpful. So by when will you be ready to do my ultrasound?”
She looks at me, almost as if she is in shock. It may just be the first time that anybody has talked back to her and asked this kind of question. She recovers and then proceeds to tell me that there is an hour delay. I respond by telling her that I heard her the first time. And that her answer does not give me the information that I asked for – the only information that is meaningful/helpful. She says, “I’ll go talk to the doctor and come back to you soon.” I wait. It becomes clear to me that her understanding of “soon” is different to mine. I put my book away, get up, and make my way back to the original unit handling cancer patients.
I approach the receptionist, and when she looks at me I tell her that I did not get the ultrasound done as I am not willing to wait around for the rest of the day. And, that I am going home. She tells me to wait. Then she takes me to the doctor and tells him that which I told her. What does the doctor say? This: “I got it wrong. After you left I took another look at your case history and I can see that……So there is nothing to worry about. You can go home.”
I say, “What about my next appointment – in six months time? What about the blood test form that I get given each time? You do know that I have to get my blood tested about 4 weeks before my next appointment to see my oncologist?” By his response, it becomes clear that he does not know. Soon thereafter, I leave that hospital – the blood testing form that he has given me is not the one that I need. And, I have not the patience to deal with novices.
The next day, I call ‘my’ oncologist’s secretary and leave a message along these lines: I turned up yesterday, the doctor who dealt with me did not know what he was doing. He did not give me the blood test form that you give me. And I have no confidence in anything that he told me. Please ring me back as soon as you can. As yet, I have not heard anything back.
Deconstructing My Journey: Why Is It That It Turned Out This Way?
I am clear that each unit of the hospital was operating as a silo. Each unit with its own agenda, priorities, constraints, people, tasks, practices… These units just happened to be housed in the same physical location. And lumped under a label: X Hospital. Further, it occurs to me that each person in a particular unit of the hospital was thinking in terms of his/her role: the work (tasks) s/he had to perform, the people s/he had to please, the priorities/constraints that had to be respected etc.
It occurs to me that nobody that I encountered on that day in that hospital was thinking in terms of the Customer (the patient – me) or the Customer’s experience. The doctor did not speak in a language I could possibly understand though we both spoke English fluently. Neither the doctor nor the receptionist was concerned about how I would make my way to the X-ray unit. The folks in the X-ray unit just assumed that I had all day to sit and wait. Nobody was mindful that the clock was running down on the parking meter. My oncologist clearly doesn’t get or doesn’t care that I am concerned about the accuracy of the information I was given by the ‘novice’ doctor.
Why Is It That Customer Experience Is So Poor In The UK?
How is it that an institution whose purpose is to provide care treats a human being like an object? Let’s be clear I was treated as an object – to be processed according to the rules. I did not encounter any humanity at all. The people I encountered could be replaced by robots – the level of humanity would not be reduced one iota.
In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, the main character tells his traveling companions that his son has been diagnosed with mental illness. Now lets following the dialogue:
‘What do the psychiatrists think?’ John asks.
‘Nothing. I stopped it.’
‘Is that good?’
‘I don’t know……..’
‘That doesn’t sound right.’
‘No one else thinks so either…..’
‘But why?’ asks Sylvia.
‘I don’t know why…..it’s just that….I don’t know…they’re not kin’…Surprising word, I think to myself, never used it before. Not of kin….sounds like hillbilly talk….not of a kind……same root…..kindness, too…..they can’t have real kindness toward him, they’re not his kin……That’s exactly the feeling.
Old world, so ancient its almost drowned out. What a change through the centuries. Now anyone can be ‘kind.’ And everybody’s supposed to be. Except that long ago it was something that you were born into and couldn’t help. Now it’s just a faked-up attitude half the time, like teachers the first day of class. But what do they really know about kindness who are not kin?
It goes over and over again through my thoughts……mein Kind – my child. There is it is in another language. Mein Kinder…..
I walked away from my visit to the hospital thinking/feeling this: Nobody here cares whether I have cancer or not. Nobody cares whether I live or not. They are indifferent to my existence. And this is true for the society I live in. Yet, here I am – the person who finds tears flowing down his cheeks whenever he remembers that one of his best friends is no longer due to brain cancer. What a difference there is between how one is treated by kin, and those who are not kin!
Now ask yourself this: Is it any different in the business world? I say that if you are truthful, you will see that which I see. And if you do see what I see then you will see the real challenge that lies at the heart of genuine customer-centricity, Customer Experience, and customer loyalty.
I thank you for your listening, and I wish you the very best. Until the next time….